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For lesbian-feminist filmmaker Barbara Hammer, “making up” lost queer history in the absence of conventional archives is a material and embodied process seen in her experimental documentary Nitrate Kisses (1992). This film centres around different queer couples portraying various erotic, physical and sexual acts. Each of these acts are aligned with voice-over interviews and visual archival ephemera detailing particular historical traumas, including the AIDS crisis and the erasure of lesbian experiences from life narratives of Holocaust survivors. I argue that the body and various erotic acts in Nitrate Kisses become sites of consciousness and cognition employed in the recovery of traumatic memory. As I explore, it is physical touch—sexual and erotic touch in particular—that acts as a conduit for accessing lost or purposefully invisibilized archival knowledge. Employing Elizabeth Freeman’s erotohistoriography, I argue that sex and other forms of physical touch in Hammer’s film become a method of remembering historical injustices, making them visible through an embodied queer-feminist archival practice in order for the viewer to bear witness to trauma that has shaped queer cultural memory.
This article contains images of nudity and sexual behaviour.